Metro Vancouver transit workers begin job action; union warns of disruptions

VANCOUVER — Transit workers in Metro Vancouver have begun labour disruptions following the breakdown of contract talks and the union is warning that commuters could feel the effects very quickly.

Unifor, representing about 5,000 transit drivers, SeaBus operators and maintenance workers, says the first stage of the job action includes not wearing uniforms and refusing overtime.

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The union's chief negotiator, Gavin McGarrigle, says the overtime ban by maintenance workers could affect SeaBus service between Vancouver and North Vancouver by the afternoon rush, which could reduce sailings to a single vessel.

He says if the dispute drags on, buses requiring maintenance will likely have to be taken off the streets, further reducing service.

A statement issued by Mike McDaniel, president of Coast Mountain Bus Co., urges the union to avoid a walkout and resume talks which broke off Thursday.

Wages, benefits and working conditions are key issues in the dispute.

McDaniel said Coast Mountain has put forward a "fair and reasonable offer."

"Our negotiators have repeatedly asked union representatives to participate in third-party mediation to help resolve the current situation, but they have refused to take part," McDaniel said in the statement.

McGarrigle said his members have been without a contract since March and he warned the dispute could be lengthy.

"Our members are so determined this time. We're prepared to wait this out, and if that means six months, nine months, a year, that's what we are going to do and we are going to make sure we get that fair contract," McGarrigle told a Vancouver-area news conference.

The job action will not affect West Vancouver's blue bus system, SkyTrain, Canada Line or the HandyDart service for passengers with physical or cognitive disabilities.

Unifor and Coast Mountain said they will do their best to give passengers 24- to 48-hours notice of further service disruptions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2019

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